Friday, Oct 26, 2012
Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Improved Services for Vulnerable Children
This week, Arkansas reached a milestone in our efforts to give our children the best possible chance to grow up successful, healthy and happy. Four years after a troubling review from the federal government, our child-welfare system is now receiving accolades from those same regulators. We’ve made commendable advances in our efforts to prevent abuse and strengthen struggling families.
In 2008, a federal Child and Family Services Review found that Arkansas was not performing well in any of the seven program areas examined. Working with the Arkansas Legislature, I allocated additional resources to the system and called for a complete overhaul of procedures.
Now, in 2012, Arkansas meets or exceeds every goal that was outlined in its federal Program Improvement Plan. The reward for this hard work is better lives for more Arkansas children. The percentage of children being adopted, rather than staying in foster care, has gone from 33 percent of the cases seen during the 2008 review to 68 percent. In fact, in the last fiscal year, Arkansas finalized a record 674 adoptions. By finding stable homes for these children, instead of moving them from foster home to foster home, we’ve given them certainty and consistency that they can use as a foundation for success in life.
Whenever possible, we hope to eventually reunite children in foster care with their biological parents. Therefore, it’s important that these children maintain relationships with those parents. We’ve made progress in this area, as well. Since 2008, the percentage of foster children who continue to have a relationship with their families has increased from 48 percent to 70 percent.
Even with better outcomes for some children, much more work remains. State officials are continuing efforts to close service gaps that have proven cumbersome to foster-and-adoption proceedings in the past. They are also talking directly with the youth in foster care, asking how the State can improve the care and services those children receive. Work also continues to keep more young people out of the child-welfare system in the first place. The ongoing development of preventive programs and measures will help families better handle challenges without DCFS having to intervene.
The numbers can be daunting for our child-welfare workers. In any given month, 12,000 Arkansas children receive services from DCFS. This past year, the Division investigated more than 35,000 reports of child maltreatment. Nearly 8,000 children remain in foster care. While the internal improvements to our child-welfare system are commendable, much of the system’s success lies in the continued willingness of Arkansans to open their homes and hearts to children in need.
Children have a right to be protected and nurtured by the communities in which they live. Thanks to the advancements we’ve made, more Arkansas children are finding the safety and well-being many of us take for granted. As we continue to improve our child-welfare system, hope for these children, and for our state’s future, will continue to grow.